As the Director of Outreach at Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy, Summer Ash is a self-professed space cadet. Starting out earning her a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University in 1998 she was a mass properties engineer on the X-34 program at Orbital Sciences. The program was centered around building a reusable autonomous experimental aircraft for NASA but the project was later cancelled.
Attending International Space University she earned a master’s in space science in 2002 and then studied astrophysics at Cambridge University where her research focused on the evolution of radio galaxies. As part of the Oxbridge Academic Programs, she began designing and implementing astronomy and math & nature summer courses for high school students from around the world. In 2008 she began teaching Frontiers of Science, a freshman level course introducing scientific habits and critical thinking skills at Columbia University. Three years later she transitioned to two new positions at the university, first as the Assistant Director of the Bridge to PhD program. She left that position in July of 2015 to pursue work in science communication but continues to serve as the Director of Outreach for the Department of Astronomy.
In her work as a science communicator, Ash has written for Scientific American, Slate, Nautilus, and Disney Junior and serves as the in-house astrophysicist for the Rachel Maddow Show. And if you are looking for the best of science fashion check out Startorialist, a blog connecting spacey fashion and scientists that she and fellow astronomer Dr. Emily Rice co-founded.
Ever the scientist, when she learned she would need heart surgery in 2012 she began sharing her experience with the world via her blog Defective Heart Girl Problems. Not only does she explain the medical science behind her surgery and recovery but she is also open about her personal journey through this process. She even had her surgeons take pictures of her heart during her procedure and has posted them for the world to learn from.
Ash enjoys being able to spread her love of space with anyone willing to listen.
Written by Angela Goad
Edit: An earlier version of this post had some factual errors that have now been fixed. Thank you for your patience as we worked on the corrections.